28 September 2012

Going deaf, one concert at a time

My dad wears earplugs to church.

He really does.

But before you think he is trying to tune out the sermon (after all, why else would he attend church?), let me explain that it is because he is worried about losing his hearing in church.

This is a real and legitimate fear that I, at age 30, am realizing is something we really all ought to have.

My dad’s not the only one. I have heard other people—though I admit they are mostly over the age of 45—complain that churches today are just too loud.

I attend a rather quiet church. Yes, most of the time, I wish the music were a little more upbeat and contemporary, that there were a guitar rather than just a piano, that sort of thing. But at least I don’t worry about losing my hearing. There is no worship team, and the choir has simple choir mikes. Nothing is blasted anywhere. My eardrums are grateful.

But I attended a concert last night that made me wonder, Why do we think louder is better?

I admit I didn’t know most of the songs, and I went mostly for the company and the experience. I had a fabulous time, thanks to some ladies from my PWOC group and to great musicians. (And dinner at Dairy Queen, which is a rare treat.) But because I didn’t know many of the songs, I felt pretty out-of-the-loop.

Why?

Because I couldn’t understand the words! I caught maybe one out of every ten words.

Why?

Because it was so darn loud! There was so much audio distortion due to volume that I literally could not understand the lyrics of the songs. If it had been true only for the warm-up bands, I wouldn’t have minded so much. (OK, so the Sidewalk Prophets can hardly be considered a warm-up band, but they were not the name on the ticket.) But the featured artist was just as hard to understand.

I get having loud music for a rock band. I’m totally down with that. I went to an Audio A concert once, and we sat right in front of the speakers midway back in the fair tent. Dude. We could feel the bass just pounding in our whole bodies. Quite the experience. But I’d expect that sort of thing from Audio A.

Honestly? The songs I enjoyed most the whole evening were the ones with the least accompaniment. Francesca Battistelli has a lovely voice, and I loved the songs in which I could actually hear it, when she wasn’t being drowned out by the bass or electric guitar, the songs in which she sat down and sang to a single guitar.

Yeah. That was nice. I didn’t know the songs, and I could hear her singing, understand the words, and be moved by their power.

OK, yes, so some songs are more upbeat and can use some more pep and volume, but really, to blast the music at a level that will literally cause long-term hearing damage if the listeners (not to mention the musicians) are exposed over a long period just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why is louder better?

From another angle entirely, if the musicians really do seek to minister to people in their concerts and spread the gospel, wouldn’t their music be more effective if the lyrics were intelligible? Some of the words are so juicy and powerful if only they could be heard. Evangelistically, loud and distorted music just doesn’t seem very ideal.

Maybe it’s just me. From now on, though, I think I’ll either have to stick to concerts of people with whose music I am rather more familiar or take earplugs and enjoy the lights show. And when my peers are going deaf at 45, I’ll just smile and whisper, “Can you hear me now?”

17 September 2012

I believe in ghosts.

ghost Yes, Halloween is still six weeks away, but I got a catalog in the mail last week that had costumes on the cover, and Timothy is already talking about what he wants to be for Halloween. Just like last year, we had to discuss the options that were “out” because Halloween isn’t about scary things; it’s about dressing up and making sure everyone has a fun, safe time.

I’ve mentioned before that we were never allowed to dress up as scary characters when we were children. No witches, ghosts, skeletons, goblins, vampires, werewolves, zombies, or Frankensteins (although of course we educated folk know that Frankenstein was the name of the creator of the “monster” while arguably being himself a human monster for his role in the creation, right, Ruth?). My brother Jonathan dressed as a bum when he was in 6th grade, but I think that’s the closest we got to negative characters. My sister was Laura Ingalls Wilder at least once and even made herself into a jelly bean jar one year. But it was always clear that the “traditional” Halloween themes were not welcome in our home.

That went for decorations, too. We never ever decorated for Halloween except with a Jack-o’-Lantern (or two or three). My sister and her now-husband one year carved a globe into their pumpkin for Halloween. Talk about awesome! So pumpkins are good. Witches & ghosts, not so much.

We were never allowed to watch any scary movies, either, which is completely understandable. Not only that, but we weren’t even allowed to watch friendly ghost movies like ones about Casper the Friendly Ghost. I have still never seen Ghostbusters, The Addams Family, or The Nightmare Before Christmas.

But I believe in ghosts.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in Casper. I think dressing up in a white sheet is kind of silly and ridiculous, and I can see how it might be fun (though I won’t let my child do it).

I’m talking about actual ghosts. I think they do exist, just as I think real witches exist, and I have what I consider to be a healthy respect for spirits I cannot understand.

In 1 Samuel 28, a medium (or “witch” in some translations) called the spirit of Samuel up at King Saul’s request. Saul spoke with Samuel’s ghost about an upcoming battle, and the spirit of Samuel prophesied the death of not only Saul but also his sons, in addition to a rout of the Israelite army (v. 19).

I’m not a Bible or theology scholar, so I could not explain to you how this fits in with the concept that death is the end of reality here on earth, and that once we die, we spend eternity with God or apart from God. Yet even in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:27-31), the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to the rich man’s family to warn them about the torment awaiting them if they did not change their ways. Was he referring to sending a ghost? I don’t know. Maybe it was rather a request for someone to “ris[e] from the dead” (v. 31) as in the NIV. Either way we’re talking about people who have died coming back to talk to the living. But notice that Abraham said no.

By way of pop fiction, the Harry Potter books give a great deal of discussion to ghosts. In Book 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Sir Nicholas tells Harry, “Wizards can leave an imprint of themselves upon the earth, to walk palely where their living selves once trod. […] But very few wizards choose that path” (p. 861). He explains later,

“I was afraid of death. . . I chose to remain behind. I sometimes wonder whether I oughtn’t to have . . . Well, that is neither here nor there. . . . In fact, I am neither here nor there. . . . […] I know nothing of the secrets of death, Harry, for I chose my feeble imitation of life instead.” (p. 861)

It certainly is food for thought.

While I am curious about ghosts and the spirits of those who have died, I will leave that in Pandora’s box, so to speak. After having lived in Nigeria, I have no doubt that spirits do exist, and I should think ghosts fall into that category, too. I believe a spiritual battle is waging, just as Frank Peretti so eloquently depicts in his novels. But since the only instance I’m aware of in the Bible that mentions ghosts is a negative portrayal [the medium is terrified because God has forbidden His people to turn to mediums or spiritists (Leviticus 19:31)], I will just assume that we’re not supposed to summon ghosts but let them be at peace.

When I lived in Nigeria, every time we traveled to the nearby village of Miango, where there was a cemetery for missionaries and their children, it was my habit to visit several graves at night, when all was quiet and peaceful. I miss that. I miss laying flowers down for Hyo Jin Lee and Aimee Ardill.  I would stand by their graves—pensive, mellow, and not a little bit hopeful, but never afraid.

While I believe that ghosts do exist, they do not frighten me.

My God is bigger than they are.

Image courtesy of http://www.uttertrivia.com/halloweentrivia.php.

13 September 2012

Where I come from (Part I): Seasons

Many people ask me, “What was it like growing up in Nigeria?”

Wow, what an overwhelmingly huge question.

I usually have to follow the question with my own question: “What do you want to know?”

I mean, if you moved to a foreign country, and someone asked, “What was it like growing up in America?” how would you respond?

Umm… Different.

So, in case you’re curious about what it was like growing up in a foreign country, I’ll try to tell you a little bit and hopefully not bore you to tears.

***********

The first thing that struck me as we journeyed from the northern airport town of Kano five hours south to our new hometown of Jos, Nigeria, on Saturday, August 24, 1991, was how green everything was. I was coming from southern California, which is dry at the best of times but which that year was suffering from drought. The vivid green was just startling. It rained on our trip. It rained during dinner at our new neighbors’ home that evening. It rained the next day after we had lunch with other new neighbors. Welcome to rainy season in Jos!

Nigeria is a very disparate country as far as climate. You wouldn’t expect it when you think of Africa. The average person tends to picture “Africa” as Sahara Desert, flat savanna with giraffes and zebras, or jungle. And he’s be right. Africa is really, really big and has all sorts of climates and topography. Even in Nigeria, which is not by any means the largest country in area, has all three of those main areas. The south is coastal and very tropical, a typical rain forest. It rains a lot all year round and is hot and humid all year round. The central belt is more of a grassland with two distinct seasons that are as different from each other as summer and winter in Minnesota. The north is arid and is the beginnings of the dry land that becomes the Sahara the farther north you go.

Our town, Jos, is in the central belt, on a plateau of about 4000 ft. It’s the second coolest place in the country (on average). Really, the temperatures are a lot like southern California: in the 70s. Most of the year.

We arrived in August, which is the peak of the rainy season. And in July and August, it rains every single day. Sometimes it’s only in the afternoon. Other times there are thunderstorms on and off all day long. Most of the rain is from storms: hard, driving rain that pounds on the zinc roof. And hail. I can’t forget to mention the hail. It doesn’t hail every day by any means, but there are always several good hailstorms every year, casting down ice as big as cherry tomatoes. During our awards ceremony at the end of one school year, the electricity went out (which is normal), and no one could hear the speaker because of the rain pounding on the high roof of the chapel. Our high school math teacher had to do the rest of the awards and announcements in his booming voice. That’s the kind of rain I’m talking about. Not rain like in the U.K. or Pacific Northwest. rain The season starts in late April to mid-May and always comes with the explosion of flying termites that seem to literally erupt from the ground after the first drenching rain. They are everywhere. They get in your face, fly around the house, flutter around the car, crawl into your bed, the whole works. They totally creep me out, even though I lived in Nigeria a total of nine years. I hate flying termites. The local kids will run around and collect them, grabbing them and throwing them into a bucket of water. The wings fall off in the water, and once the termites are drowned, they get thrown into a pan and fried… or sometimes eaten raw. No, I’ve never eaten one. I just could never get up the courage! Driving at night could be dangerous because there would be flocks of children around the few working street lights (to which the termites are attracted), all trying to grab the flying bugs. Delightful.

The season usually starts off slowly. It rains a couple times a week at first, then three or four times. By mid-July, it’s raining every day. Beautiful thunderstorms and lightning that also bring high winds and flooding at times. Washed out roads, huge potholes, everything. It’s my absolute favorite time of year. The rain cools things off considerably, and I used to love curling up with hot tea (my family is obsessive about hot tea) and a book on summer vacation. You have to sit right by the window, too, because the electricity is often off, so the house gets pretty dark during storms. Our windows are slatted, though, so you have to risk getting rather wet. Even when the windows are closed all the way, rain still gets in. During a really hard storm, we’d have to remove the cushions from the couch, which was pushed up against our living room window, to keep them from getting soaked.

Then in September, the rain starts tapering off, and sometime in October, it mostly stops. It’s warm and humid, but it doesn’t rain.  In November, the dust rolls in. Some years it happens gradually, but other years, we’d wake up one morning, and literally overnight, the air had become filled with a thick cloud of dust. Not like a dust storm you might imagine from watching Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a fine, reddish brown powdery dust called harmattan, and it gets everywhere. In your hair, your nose, onto the furniture, window panes, clothing. Sometimes you can even feel it when you breathe. And the land just dries up. Grass withers and dies. The lush green landscape turns into a brown wasteland in the space of just a few weeks.

harmattanBut it’s not hot, as you might expect when you think of dust and dry weather. On the contrary, the coolest temperatures usually come during the dry season. The dust is so thick in the air that the sun’s warmth just doesn’t penetrate as well. It never gets cold, but it can cool off enough that people begin to die of exposure. It has been known to be in the 40s at night on rare occasions. The whole season isn’t like that; mostly it’s in the 60s and 70s, but the cold nights can be refreshing…as we snuggle in blankets because homes are not insulated and have no heating mechanisms except for fire. The visibility decreases, too. Distant hills become practically invisible. The sun vanishes before it goes below the horizon at sunset as it sinks below the layer of dust in the air. It’s a red sun, a harmattan sun. One of our missionaries used to sing, “I’m dreaming of a brown Christmas.” How fitting.

Dry season lasts through about February. March brings warm, humid weather again. This is the time of year my mom and I dislike the most. Neither of us is suited for heat, and the humidity can be overpowering, especially without electricity to run a ceiling fan. (Besides, ceiling fans are problematic in the kitchen, where it’s hottest, because they blow out the gas flames on the stove and while you’re trying to light the oven—with matches.) It is warm and humid but doesn’t rain. You can just feel the heavy air. High school classes after lunchtime were particularly difficult in March, since most classrooms didn’t have fans. We were pretty droopy.

And then finally, one day, we’d spot a dark cloud moving in, and we’d hear the sound of distant thunder. We’d go in to class after lunch with the fragrance of rain filing us with hope. Then, about 1:30 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we’d hear the pitter-patter of rain on the roof, and we’d beg to be allowed to dash outside to enjoy it. When the bell rang, we’d all dash out from under the veranda roof and lift our faces to the rain. That blessed, refreshing, rejuvenating rain.

I wonder what Vivaldi’s masterpiece The Four Seasons would sound like if he had grown up in Nigeria…

 

Harmattan photo courtesy of http://ebushpilot.com/blog/index.php/2007/01/harmattan-daze/

Rainy season photo courtesy of http://kimkennett.wordpress.com/2010/11/08/settling-in/

12 September 2012

It’s about me, not about you.

This blog is very simple. I’m a writer. My thoughts and feelings have been pent up for much, much too long, and I am trying to finally release them. I have thoughts I like to share. Sometimes I want feedback. Sometimes I just want to express myself without the fear of judgment and ridicule. I can’t do that in my everyday life, so this is my place of escape. I haven’t had such a place for years, and I ache for a venue I can just be genuine, just be me.

I have controversial thoughts. I step on people’s toes. On Facebook, I have hosted discussions on Islam, gun control, modesty, health care reform, and other hot topics. I really enjoy discussions and the way in which people [generally] interact in a civil way. I don’t want to necessarily convince anyone of anything, but I think we should talk about things. We can never get along if we don’t get into some of these issues and at some point either agree or agree to disagree and move on. Civil, loving, and informed discussion is healthy and awesome. I love it. It’s probably what I miss most about my college years at Wheaton. (OK, Heather & Will, you’re right up there, too.)

I offend people. I step on toes. That’s not my intent, but it happens. When I have controversial ideas and openly discuss them, I cannot avoid offending people who take my ideas personally instead of in the spirit of academic debate. I don’t mean to hurt feelings. Really, I don’t. But I cannot possibly agree with everyone. I don’t want to. I like variety, and I can’t take a stand on anything if I’m worried about offending someone.

We read in Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God last night that we cannot expect to make everyone happy. Christians who take stands on important issues are going to offend people. Jesus offended the Pharisees big time. No lie. The apostles and early church leaders spoke the truth in love and gently (when they could), but they spoke the truth, and they were persecuted.

I’m not saying I speak the truth necessarily, but I think it’s important to at least search for the truth instead of assuming we know what it is. It’s important to open your mind to other ideas and possibilities, to not be narrow-minded. Not to accept everything and become so tolerant that you forget your values. That’s not what it’s about, either. But I am changing all the time, developing and growing, and I want to evaluate my ideas and beliefs to see if they still make sense to me as I get older and learn more about life. That’s my personal reason for these discussions. I think I have that right.

That is Facebook. This blog is not designed to be a forum for discussion. Sorry, but that’s not its purpose. This blog is my selfish indulgence in my love for writing and my attempt to be genuine in some tiny area of my life. The brutal truth is that while I have lots of friends here in Georgia, I don’t have a bosom friend or a kindred spirit. (Yes, that may offend some people, but it’s true.) I have had such amazing friends in my lifetime that I have really, really, really high expectations. While I might talk about “struggles” in my life to some of my local friends, no one really knows the real me. No one here. That is just the truth. I have dealt with it and moved on. And this is one of the ways in which I’ve moved on. Here, I can spill my guts, just lay it all out on the table, be totally me. Please don’t judge me. This is my space. Let me have my moments here. Don’t take things personally. No offense, but I’m not thinking about you here in my space. I’m thinking about me. I need this. I really do.

I love my readers. So many of you have encouraged me and blessed me by reading and commenting, and even just by nagging me to write. Thank you! But seriously, if I offend you, please just don’t read. If you can’t handle my brutal honesty, that’s fine. But don’t whine about it. Just give me my space. Peace out.

11 September 2012

Bucket list

bucket list I watched the movie The Bucket List sometime in the past six months and found it intriguing even while it was entirely unbelievable. Generally I liked the film. I did not immediately make my own bucket list, but it was food for thought. The idea was not new to me, as one of my favorite movies is A Walk to Remember. In that film, a  young woman dying of leukemia has a list of things she wants to accomplish in her life, including being in two places at once, having a star named after her, and finishing medical school. (Love the movie, hate the book. Sorry, Nicholas Sparks.)

I heard a snippet on the radio a few weeks ago from a Focus on the Family program in which two people were discussing the concept. From what I recall—and please take this with a grain of salt--the main speaker was explaining that he thought it was pretty silly if not unbiblical to have a bucket list. His argument was that this life is only the blink of an eye compared to our real life of eternity that begins with this earthly death. Why should we focus on earthly accomplishments at all? Shouldn’t we be more focused on things above?

I’m no theologian, but I think that’s a pretty extreme view on the topic. I suppose I would agree that if your goals for this temporary life are about wealth and worldly success, that is unbiblical and silly. On the other hand, I strongly believe setting and reaching goals for ourselves can help us develop determination and diligence, which are important and desirable character traits for everybody, Christians included. So then does it really depend on the things on your bucket list. Can it be silly or unbiblical, for example, to have on your bucket list to share Jesus with five people? or—one of my personal goals—to help my mom write her memoirs and share her amazing story of God’s goodness with other people? As for more “neutral” ideas, is it wrong to want to hike 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail? or visit all 50 states in the U.S.? or deliver a baby?

We are in the world, not of the world. But we are still in the world. Can we not enjoy it? Enjoy adventures and making memories? Yes, this life is only temporary, but while we forge ahead in lives of faith and grace, why should we not set goals and celebrate accomplishments? If not for ourselves, then maybe to create memories for those who come behind?

What do you think?

I am different

I know many, many amazing ladies who are great moms, wives, friends, and followers of Jesus.

I would like to think that—at least sometimes—I fall into those categories, too.

And yet, I am different.

Maybe it’s just the people I know here, but it seems even my Facebook friends have similar traits. I can’t really say clearly how I am different from my closest friends, since two of them aren’t married, and the third is married but is not a mother yet.

How am I different?

  • I have no plans to homeschool my kids. In fact, I like the idea of handing them off to someone else for a few hours each day.
  • I don’t cloth-diaper. I love the earth, but I also love disposable diapers. Woot.
  • I eat processed food. Sure, we eat lots of fruit, but we also eat mac & cheese, bologna, and Hamburger Helper without any guilt. And I really, really like fast food.
  • I really hate football. Period.
  • I honestly cannot tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke, but I’m a sucker for diet cola in whatever form it takes.
  • I have no interest in competitive running. Thanks, but I am exercising to be fit and healthy, not to be fast. Even that is a huge struggle.
  • I am not on Pinterest and have very little desire to get pulled into that. Facebook is a big enough time-waster, and I’m afraid Pinterest would only underscore all the amazing and wonderful things I’m not doing!
  • I am a huge supporter of allopathic medicine. Huge. While I understand medical doctors cannot treat everything, modern medicine is amazing and has not only increased life expectancy but also—more importantly in my opinion—increased quality of life for so many people. If you don’t believe me, spend a summer in an African clinic.
  • I immunize my kids without any qualms. None whatsoever. I’m only sad that it makes them cry.
  • I have not taught my 4-year-old to read. I figure he will learn when he’s ready to learn… Or his teachers will eventually teach him. Either way, he’ll learn to read.
  • I believe in speed limits. No, really. I do.
  • I have never wanted to live within the European Union. It sounds really neat, but it does not sound like a place I’d ever fit in. Take me instead to Ethiopia or Zambia.
  • I don’t drive a minivan and never plan to. I don’t need all that space because
  • I am very happy to only have two kids. They are plenty for me, and I will be delighted if we never have another baby! (Granted, I will be equally delighted if we do, but as far as it is my choice, two is good!)
  • I don’t have a smart phone or a Kindle. I’m sure I will at some point, but not yet.
  • I don’t cook if I can avoid it. I just don’t have ideas for enough things that my picky kids will enjoy. Eat, yes. Enjoy, no. I do make sure they are getting enough of the right foods, just not in cooked meals as such.
  • I am going to be a working mom. Not sure what that will look like yet, but it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time and circumstance.
  • I am a liberal who thinks that life begins at conception and thus abortion is generally wrong, and that homosexuality is unbiblical. Or maybe I am a conservative who believes in gun control and federal assistance for the poor, including health care reform. Who can say? But I definitely ride the fence, and that makes me different.

Are these differences good? bad? neutral? Of course it all depends on your point of view. But while I feel lonely and out-of-touch sometimes, I am glad at least that my personality remains intact—as much as that is possible since it is continually developing and changing. When I don’t feel isolated, I am happy being different. Maybe in our next living situation, I will find someone who is different like me.

23 August 2012

Summer rains

rainy season One of my favorite and most vivid memories of rainy season is from the summer of 1995. All of my friends had gone back to the States for the summer, so I was going through social detox. There must have been some sort of prescription drug shortage in our town that summer because I remember my dad often driving hither and yon to large pharmacies to pick up meds for the hospital where he worked. I would often ride with him and take a book. I’d sit in the car while he went in to see if the pharmacy had the meds he needed. We had a big blue van that year, the kind with the high roof. I would sit in the way back seat and watch the rain or read my book.

Now, our town in Nigeria is allegedly one of the most lightning-prone places in the world, so I’ve seen a lot of lightning in my lifetime. But as far as I know, lightning there is not a sign of coming tornadoes or hurricanes, or even necessarily high winds. So while I have a healthy fear of lightning in and of itself, I’m used to it. I know to unplug important appliances. and stay away from windows. But it doesn’t scare me as long as I’m being careful.

That’s today. That summer I was 13. One particular day, as I was sitting in the car, the lightning was just a little too close for comfort. I leapt out of the car and ran into the warehouse to join my dad and sit out the worst of the storm. Only later was I informed that a car is one of the safest places to be in a lightning storm. (Is this really true, Dad?)

But one of my favorite things was to sit in the way back on the drive home and put my arm (or my face if we weren’t on the main road) out the window into the streaming rain. The windows were the kind that manually slide open horizontally, so I could open it just enough to put my arm or my head out. There was nothing more exhilarating to me that summer than letting the wind and rain lash my face and hair as we drove along. Of course, once we reached the main road I’d have to bring my drenched head back into the van and be satisfied with sticking my hand out. But it was always fun while it lasted.

Thanks, Dad, for letting me tag along in those summer rains.

(Photo courtesy of Gary Payne: http://thepaynes.wordpress.com/page/10/#)

21 August 2012

Modesty

I grew up in a reasonably conservative family. When my dad was a teenager, he was one of the first to be allowed to play guitar in his church. For us as kids, Halloween was about dressing up as fun, wholesome characters such as Laura Ingalls Wilder or a jelly bean jar. No skeletons, witches, ghosts, period. While we heard about Santa Claus from other kids, we didn’t do Santa at home, and we certainly never did anything with the Easter Bunny. Easter was a time for family and remembering the Resurrection.

Clothing was similar. I don’t remember ever wanting to wear clothes with skulls, but it certainly would not have been allowed. My sister and I were expected to wear our Sunday best to church, and that meant no trousers or skorts, even nice ones. Lacy collars were a definite bonus. I don’t remember really arguing about the guidelines or feeling restricted.

When we moved to Nigeria when I was nine years old, we had to adapt our clothing somewhat. We were coming from Los Angeles, where we could wear shorts and tank tops most of the year. While we were allowed to wear shorts at our Christian school in Nigeria, they had to be long, and tank top sleeves had to be several inches wide. Outside of school, if we went walking in the community or to market, we had to wear long skirts. And in Nigerian church, we had to cover our heads with scarves. I’d say we both adapted pretty well. My mom might have a more accurate memory, but I don’t remember complaining too much. I learned to want to dress modestly. At our Christian school we heard a lot about modesty and how women should not dress provocatively to cause men to stumble. Made sense. No argument there.

After I graduated from high school, I spent the summer camping with my aunt and uncle and wore my cousin’s hand-me-downs, mostly stylish and shorter shorts than I was used to.  My aunt had to buy me my first pair of “real jeans,” since the only ones I’d had in high school had an elastic waist. By the time I got to college in the Chicago area, though, there were only a few weeks left of weather warm enough for shorts and bare arms. For the next four years, I dressed perhaps more modestly than ever. I fell in love with jeans, turtlenecks, and sweaters. I was all about comfort and had almost zero interest in style. Whatever I could get free at our college’s clothes swap was awesome. I was probably one of very few who wore only skirts and dresses to church, even in the winter. One summer, two friends got me a spaghetti-strap shirt as a gag gift because they knew I’d never wear it. I did end up wearing it when I drove long-distance but always put a shirt on over it when I got out of the car. It made me feel so exposed when I was around other people, but it was super comfortable for summer driving on my own.

Now, eight years later, I wear spaghetti straps and shorts that are above the knee. I even have some skirts that are above the knee. And I have a couple pairs of flowy dress trousers that I wear to church. What happened?? Do I dress provocatively? Hardly. On the other hand, I am hardly ever around men besides my husband, so if I feel comfortable without sleeves, why not wear what I want to? Will I ever wear a bikini? Not likely. Will I ever wear a halter top or show my tummy? I don’t think so. Will I ever wear something with a plunge neckline? Um, no thanks. But I am curious what has changed about my worldview that has caused such a visual change in clothes. Mostly I still wear longish shorts and t-shirts in the summer, and 3/4-sleeve sweaters and jeans in the winter. I still dress mostly for comfort and low cost. But my boundaries have moved back a bit. Why?

17 August 2012

Two roads diverged

This fall, we will be taking one of two paths, which means that I personally will be taking one of two paths. They may eventually lead to the same place professionally, but for now, they are quite different.

If X happens, I will need to work full-time. I’ve been looking at jobs and applying for several weeks now. I’ve even read bits and pieces of some of the books recommended by friends, family, and the helpful librarians. (I’m afraid I haven’t gotten through all of any one book yet.) Mostly I’m applying for administrative-type office jobs. There are lots of these types of jobs out there, but no employers yet who want me in particular. Granted, the last time I did administrative work in an office was going on eight years ago. Not entirely recent, but I still remember how to do everything.

So this has been a challenging and stressful time for me. I quit my part-time job at Ashford that I have been doing on and off (but mostly on) since March 2009. Changes were happening there that I just didn’t gel with. Now I can focus on job hunting and researching day cares near where we might live, as well as a pre-K for Timothy. I read in a book that the average time it takes a full-time job seeker to find a job (as of 2010) is 33 weeks. I’m starting a little late to begin a new job in November at the latest, but at least I’m trying.

On the other hand, if Y happens, I will not be working full-time. Instead, I’ll be going to school full-time… and we’ll be moving to a different state… again. And by “going to school,” I don’t mean getting my MFA in Creative Writing or an MAT. I’m talking about getting a second bachelor’s degree or doing some program that’s very—er—vocational. While I might be able to find a job as an entry-level editorial assistant in New York, Boston, or Chicago if I were willing to try one of those cities for 33 weeks, we wouldn’t want to raise our family there, so publishing has to take a back burner. I’m exploring lots of options, including Accounting, Engineering, Social Work, and Nursing, but my top two choices so far are Engineering and Practical Nursing (LPN). Either one would be a rather huge leap out of my comfort zone, but that is probably good for me.

For now, in any case, I have to keep all my options option as much as possible. Neither X nor Y has happened yet, and we’re not sure exactly when to expect either event. Either way we will be leaving this little tiny town and moving to the city. (Note that “city” means different things in different regions. Consider, for example, that Savannah is barely larger than Visalia, CA, but is rather more—ahem—citified.) Sometime between October and January, we’ll be loading up the moving truck and hitting the road again. While I have enjoyed some fun times here and have liked getting to know a handful of people, I’m more than ready for a new adventure. So bring it on.

I Go Back

There are two country songs I keep hearing on the radio that I love if only because I can identify with the sentiment. Both songs (Kenny Chesney’s “I Go Back” and Eric Church’s “Springsteen”) refer to the vivid memories recalled by certain songs. You know what I  mean. Some songs you like just because. Other songs remind you of a period of your life. But then there are those songs that take you back to a specific day, a specific place, that one moment you will always associate with the song.

I have lots of those, being someone who loves music and typically pays attention to it. And they remind me of both the good times and the bad times throughout my life. For example, I can never hear the songs “Sold” and “Cotton Eye Joe” without thinking of the Hillcrest Carnival when I was in middle school and my best friend Laura’s brother was the DJ. That was a good, fun day with Laura and the other girls.

On the other hand, “Heal the World” makes me cry because I remember the intense loneliness I felt on our 7th grade campout, the night Tammy came to sit with me by the lake and rename the stars. Everyone else had learned the song in choir while I’d been in the U.S. on furlough, and they all sang it together around the campfire, leaving me out completely. And the song “When I Fall in Love” takes me back to a very painfully ended relationship in college. I’d thought it was dumb the first time I’d heard it. After all, who falls in love only once?

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” makes me think of Michael Kingsley, who sang it for a sort of recital when I went to hear my roommate Megan sing. And when I hear “On My Own,” I think of one night studying in the Fischer 3S hallway with Elisabeth LaVigne our freshman year, when she told me she’d sung it for a talent show in high school (or something like that). Even though I never heard her sing it, i still think of that night. And the song “Blessed Be Your Name” reminds me of chapel sometime in 2006 or 2007. Our missionary friend Ken had returned to Nigeria to pack up his family’s belongings. They had left Nigeria several months earlier after their pre-school son had died in a tragic drowning accident. I knew Ken was at that chapel service, though I couldn’t see him from where I sat, and I just couldn’t imagine being able to sing those words, “You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord blessed be your name.’” I cried.

And finally, here are two of my most vivid song memories. When I was just finishing 9th grade and returning to the States for furlough, we were in Kano, getting ready to fly out (back in the days when you flew out of Kano instead of Abuja). We were with the youth pastor, Patrick, who was picking up some summer short-termers. It was evening, as we had a night flight, and we were gathered around the van. He had already that year introduced us to the song “Stress” (which we all loved) as well as sketches and songs from Monty Python. This evening, he played David Wilcox’s “Johnny’s Camaro” for us in the van. I could never remember the words after that—after all, the song is over 15 minutes long—but I carried the message with me. I so wanted to be that girl Laura in the song, returning to the States after being in Africa… That scene stands out so clearly to me.

The last one that really stands out—and honestly, I could write a book just on the memories I relate to songs—is the song “Coventry Carol.” While it’s associated with Christmas, it is actually a song about the Massacre of the Innocents. The song has a lovely but haunting melody, and I’ve always liked it for its musicality. But not until I heard Cal Horlings play it on the trumpet with piano accompaniment did it really come alive for me. It was Christmas Eve 2007, and Cal’s trumpeting so vividly depicted the mood transitions in the song. Haunting indeed. I’ll never forget it.

So those are some of my song memories. What about you? What are some of yours?

11 June 2012

Will

I don’t honestly remember first meeting Will, although he might. When we were freshmen at Wheaton, he lived on the men’s floor adjacent to my floor; we called them brother-sister floors (or just “bro-sis”) and were encouraged to bond with members of our sister and brother floors. Since we had one brother floor to two sister floors at the time, there were never enough guys to go around. When the RAs planned bro-sis activities, I usually went because we were supposed to, but I always sat in a corner, usually with a book.

While some guys occasionally might say hi throughout the year during these activities, Will was the only one who actually came to talk to me. None of this flirty 18-year-old stuff, either, or awkwardness. I could tell from the beginning that he was brighter than most of the other guys and read  a lot—not just C.S. Lewis and John Piper like every guy at Wheaton but other intense and varied authors. He knew Nigeria was in Africa, and—wow!—that Africa was huge and not one country. He knew about history and politics and literature. Eventually, I only went to bro-sis functions at all because I might get to talk to Will. He must have just been able to tell how awkward I felt at those darned events. While he wasn’t exclusive in his attention to me, he definitely made an effort to include me, for which I was extremely grateful. Not that I liked Will. I just recognized that he was extraordinary, not like the other guys I kept meeting.

Eventually, Will got his foot through the door into our little group of missionary kids (MKs). Again, he probably remembers how it happened better than I, but there it is. He became an honorary MK and hung out with those of us from France, Haiti, Nigeria, Jordan, Austria, Mexico, and other exciting places.

And then there was Pooh Corner, one of my two favorite things about my years at Wheaton. Every Tuesday night at 10pm, about a dozen of us got together to read children’s chapter books aloud. We read Lloyd Alexander’s /Prydain Chronicles, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence, and a few Harry Potter books during the summers, among many others. We were a tight-knit group, all geeks who loved reading. And Will almost always read the part of the bad guy, if there was one. He loved to play the sinister roles. That’s just Will.

And somewhere in there, in the midst of those four years of college, we became real friends. Once I got a car my junior year, I gave Will rides places, and I started going to the Anglican church he attended. (Not just because he went there, but because his whole gaggle of friends went there, and then because I loved it.) I wanted so desperately to be part of his little group of older friends, the ones who loved Star Trek and followed geeky comics and played Settlers of Catan. I never fit into the group, but I was friends with Will, and that was enough. We still had Pooh Corner, and on Sunday nights our junior & senior years, we often hung out at Tom’s house to listen to Doctor Demento sketches or watch Babylon 5.

Oh, and did I mention that Will was my supervisor at one point? Oh yes. When I worked for the college newspaper my senior year, Will was one of the editors. Now that was exciting.

Along the way, I went through the inevitable crises we all deal with: bad relationships, bad grades, homesickness, the works. And Will was a rock through it all. He and my friend Brad helped me pass my Christian Thought class, which I would have flunked otherwise. I’m not kidding.

Will: “Is Jesus God?”

Me: “Yes!”

Will: “Is Mary the mother of Jesus?”

Me: “Yes!”

Will: “Then Mary is the mother of God.”

Me: “NO!”

That was how it went. Will is extremely annoying and irritating and super-rational! Every day he drove me crazy. He teased me mercilessly, and we argued about everything. But it was all in fun, and at the end of the day, I knew I could count on Will to be honest with me and to remain my friend no matter what.

And now we’ve lived in different towns for seven years.—sometimes in different states, sometimes in different countries. And today, Will turns 30. I have no doubt whatsoever that he will be utterly humiliated by this post and will turn a deep shade of purple. I only wish I were there to see it and to wish him a happy birthday in person. Will, I know you’re reading this, and I wanted to say thank you for being one of the best friends I’ve ever had (or ever will have), and I hope you’ve had a fantabulous birthday!

16 May 2012

Two cents’ worth

A student recently wrote in his paper that he was worried if he did not provide well for all his new bride’s material and financial needs and wants, he might ruin their relationship.

Wow.

Is this what marriage has become in the U.S.? Meeting the material needs and wants of your spouse? Is that why so many marriages fail? Because women want to be able to spend $150 on a purse and can’t abide a husband who disagrees? Because the husband spends $450 a month on a brand-new car but can’t afford to pay the bills on time?

I remember our premarital counselor—as much as we ever had one—telling us that finances are one of the biggest problems in marriage. Another friend told me that it is one of the five things that couples most often fight about.

This has me completely floored. As an American, I am definitely materialistic. There is no sense in pretending I’m less worldly than those around me. I used to stand on a pedestal in my mind, when I first came to the U.S. in 2000. I thought I was better than my fellow college students because I didn’t “need” so many things, because I could do without. Who was I trying to fool?

Yes, I have lived in financial constraint for most of my life. Yes, I grew up with conservative (and poor) parents who spent their money wisely and saved it even more wisely. My mom was a penny-pincher, plain and simple. She learned it from her mom, who was also a missionary, back when that meant something different than it does today, back when missionaries were very poor, when they didn’t get to furlough every other year or go on retreats to Switzerland.

I grew up learning to do without, wearing hand-me-downs and thrift store clothing, eating generic brand cereal, and riding around in a not-quite-so-new station wagon. Of course, living in Nigeria was another world altogether, where we had a million times more materially than those around us. And yet I still managed to feel like we were in want. We didn’t get to take vacations to Europe or other countries in Africa. We still wore many thrift store clothes.

So I’ve always had this mentality that I can survive without stuff. Now that I’m grown up and live in the U.S., of course I want stuff. It accumulates. Much of it I get on sale or free, but it’s still just stuff. And yet I can’t think of a single time I’ve felt that a lack of stuff would ruin my marriage.

While I do of course think it is vital for a family to be able to survive on their income(s), it is survival that matters. Everything else is just frosting on the cake. If I want a $150 purse, I will find a way to work and make that money myself! As long as we are fed, clothed, and sheltered, what else truly matters? My heart aches for a young man who thinks his family might fall apart because he can’t provide for his wife’s whims. Even in the midst of unemployment when even needs are barely being met, when food is scarce or credit card debt is mounting, it seems like that should be a time of unity, a time of solidarity. Being poor is so much easier to tolerate when you’re not doing it alone!

So, Mr. Newlywed out there, if your wife would leave you because you can’t afford that $150 purse, you’ve got serious issues you need to work through. I truly hope she is a keeper and someone who will shake it off and love you even more for being money wise.

There, that’s my two cents’ worth.

21 March 2012

Update (mostly for you non-Facebookers)

Well, we have now lived in southeast Georgia for 16 months. This is the longest we’ve lived anywhere in the U.S. (our next longest being eight months in Visalia, California). Sometimes it feels like home. Other times, not so much. I finally hung up some pictures in photo frames and some of Timothy’s artwork—even a poster. After we’d lived here a year, I found myself wanting something for the kids’ room so got those peel-and-stick wall stickers. Now it feels a little more homey. But not really. Still, what does a home need besides a family inside it? And that I’ve got.

DSCF1766 Timothy turned 4 in November with a Mickey Mouse cake, a Cars pinata, and Toy Story invitations that never got mailed. :/ My cousin Alyssa was a huge help in putting the party together, and I think everyone had fun. In January, we were playing in an indoor playground, and Timothy had a run-in with a slide, knocking out a tooth and breaking two more, which had to be extracted a week later. So he’s got a different smile—just as adorable. :) stinkin cute kiddos 2-22-2012 8-44-43 PM

Timothy also went through minor surgery at the end of January to correct his umbilical hernia, so now his “belly button is better and smaller.” He is learning his letters at his own pace. So many of my acquaintances are “home-schooling” their three- and four-year-olds. Well, I’m not. Timothy knows his alphabet and can write his name. He can also count to 50 if he tries—leaving out 13 and 15—and told me today that he knows that ants love crumbs and will eat leftovers at a picnic if you leave them out. (He learned that from Babar, he says.) He loves to use big words, even though he doesn’t know what they mean, and he’s mostly a fun and agreeable little guy. We’ve had rotten luck this year getting him into organized sports (partly due to timing and partly due to sharing a car with Daddy), but we’re thinking of maybe doing gymnastics again starting in April. He’ll be ready for Pre-K in the fall!

huggable 2-3-2012 5-38-08 PM Anna turned one in December, but I was a lazy bum and didn’t do anything at all except hug her a little more tightly. I think we’ll go for an 18-month celebration in June so she can enjoy some cake. Both kids are super active. Anna started walking in November and now runs as often as she walks. She loves being chased and giving “kisses.” Her first distinguishable word was “Mommy,” which of course warms my heart. :) On top of that, she’s added “baby" and “no,” as well as “ca,” which usually means either “cup” or “car,” “wa” for “water.” and “tee” for “TV.” (Yes, I suppose that tells you something of our household.) She adores her big brother, and Timothy just dotes on her. Right now we’re struggling with sleep issues, but I keep trying to convince myself it’s only a matter of time before she finally gets the hang of sleeping through the night in her own crib. Maybe not until she stops nursing, though. I can wait! Naps are my friends!

I’ve been enjoying my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups and a nearby women’s Bible study, in which we’re studying the New Testament. We’re part of a Presbyterian church here, but it is tiny, and while I have religiously attended services and weekday activities, I still feel disconnected, possibly because I have no peers in the church. This has caused me to branch out, so Timothy goes to AWANA at another church, I attend MOPS & monthly ladies’ craft nights at a third church, and my Bible study is at a fourth church. (I was attending a second MOPS group until recently, which was at yet another church.) I’m really hoping that the next place we live, we can really fit into a community without having to sprawl out quite so much. And I’d dearly love to get Timothy into a children’s choir!

But even with all the activities in which I’m involved, I still feel disconnected generally. I don’t mean to complain; there are some wonderful and amazing ladies I consider good friends. They have helped me through challenging times and have given encouragement and support, and I thank God for them. At the same time, each of them has other close friends, so I wouldn’t really say I have found a “best friend.” I know it’s not likely ever to happen again, now that I’ve entered this stage of life, but I keep hoping, everywhere we move. I have made lifelong friends here, but I do miss the deep friendships I made in grade school and occasionally in college. Maybe someday… I’ve been super blessed to be able to see my best friend since 1991, Laura, half a dozen times in the past couple years since we moved away from California. She is a med student in the Navy and such an example to me of determination and Christ-centeredness. I want to be like her someday!

We’re likely to be here until the end of the year, and then, who knows? God has plans for us and will guide us in His time. I make myself sound so trusting and at peace, but in reality, I agonize about it more than I ought. While I have the foundation of a family and a loving God, I still feel restless and aimless. I want to make something of my life, and not just as a wife and mother. I’ve discovered that being a stay-at-home mom has made me lazy and selfish. I need to get out of myself, and at this point in my life, I am really struggling with where God is leading me in that sense. Is there a great job out there waiting for me? I would love to part of a non-profit organization, even if the pay weren’t great. Or should I return to school? If so, in what field? Once upon a time, I thought of medicine. Is that even realistic anymore? What about nursing? I’ve taken hardly any of the prerequisites so would have to pretty much start from scratch, even though I have a BA already. Or should I get a second Bachelor’s degree in something more practical such as engineering? That would be awfully expensive, since I wouldn’t qualify for any financial aid except loans. Then again, perhaps grad school is a better fit, learning to be a writing instructor to teach at a community college or online. I know my professional strengths, and they’re strong, but they don’t seem to be marketable right now. So in which direction should I look for something more marketable? These are some of the questions with which I struggle, and so far I’ve not gotten any answers. I suppose I will eventually.

So that’s our little recap. I am not promising to keep this blog up regularly, but I do promise to write when I get the urge.